"Do you believe in vampires?"
Ruth lifted her head from the books and stared at the figure in the cafe doorway. "Idgie Threadgoode. You been gone three days. No word, no news. You are not going to walk into my restaurant and tell me you've been fighting vampires."
Idgie leaned against the doorstop. "It's a great story, Ruth."
Idgie looked as wild as ever, framed by the doorway, but past her, the night was more quiet. Summer had been temperate so far, and Ruth missed the stickiness that drove the men inside for Coke and key lime pie. She thought about summer in Georgia, and what lay between there and Georgia, and them remembered Idgie had a story.
"All right, then. How many vampires did you kill in the great state of Alabama to get back here?"
Idgie grinned and disappeared from the doorway. Ruth rolled her eyes when Idgie's hand came back into view, crooking a finger to draw her outside.
Ruth sighed, and said, "Idgie, the books." Her tone was half-hearted. Truth was, she wanted to hear Idgie's voice, wanted to go to the place where Idgie's story'd take her. She'd come to learn that Idgie's wandering was part of what made the coming back better.
"Books can wait," Idgie's voice called.
"Buddy?" Ruth stood and leaned against the table, glad Idgie couldn't see her smiling.
"Asleep. Well, he'd damn well better be." Idgie yelled from around the wall.
A hesitant voice said, "...All right. There pie?"
Ruth went to the counter, where a lukewarm quarter-pot of coffee sat, untouched for several previous hours. Well, Ruth thought, that's all Idgie deserved anyhow. She poured the remnants into a mug. The day's pie had long since gone.
Outside, Idgie was waiting, her gangly arms and legs wrapped into the bench like a washed-up sea creature. Her chin was on her knee but she looked up at Ruth's appearance with a bashful smile.
Ruth laughed. "Honestly, Idgie. Vampires? Do you even try anymore?"
"Look, do you want to hear the story or not?"
Idgie grasped for the coffee mug. When Ruth handed it to her, she drank its contents in one, long gulp. Ruth watched her throat work. She saw no blemishes or punctures on Idgie's skin, so she figured Idgie's story wouldn't involve personal conversion to the undead. That was a blessing.
"So, there I was," Idgie started. "In the dead of night, surrounded by trees that loomed like ghosts--"
"You were down at that bar off the highway?" The corner of Ruth's mouth twitched as she forced back a smile.
Idgie wrinkled her nose. "Do you want to tell the story?"
"Now, now, I don't think my story'd be as good," Ruth said.
Idgie grasped Ruth's wrist with her free hand. "So there I was. Alone. More scared'n I'd admit to anyone but you. The trees that looked like ghosts all looked the same. Like no one I'd seen dead or alive. I was lost."
"You were drunk."
"You ain't as patient as you used to be, Ruth."
Ruth bit into her lower lip, but not before a giggle escaped her.
Idgie grinned, and said, "So, I see this sickly figure out of the corner of my eye. All bones and tattered robes. She's got no color to her skin. It's just...grey. And I see pointed teeth in her mouth." Idgie shuddered, and Ruth covered Idgie's hand on her wrist.
"I knew what was before me was a creature of the night. I wanted to run the other way, but my feet were planted to the ground. She came towards me, mouth open, fangs dripping, and finally I stumbled back. Something crunched under my feet, and I fell. Everything went black."
"You were drunk and you passed out."
Idgie ignored her. "When I came to, it was dawn, and I could see the road just a few feet from where I lay in the forest. But I'd been moved miles. My whole body ached. At first, I thought the vampire'd had its way with me..." She reached up to stroke her neck, reflexively swallowing. "But I was intact. I musta gone into some sort of battle lust and fought her off." Idgie stopped in her monologue and looked at Ruth.
"Not going to say anything?"
"I'm hoping you'll get to your point faster."
Idgie snorted, and went on. "So, when I finally got my bearings and looked around, I saw all that was left of that vampire." She shivered again, from chill rather than dramatic effect. The cool, humid night was making her clothes damp.
Ruth felt guilty about the lukewarm coffee. She moved closer, pressing herself into Idgie's warm shoulder. Idgie scooted on the bench, so their thighs were touching, and shivered again. "All that's left of her is under my hat."
"Idgie. That's disgusting."
"Safest place for it." Idgie flashed a grin so bright it didn't feel like night anymore.
Ruth freed her hand and plucked the hat off Idgie's head. She flipped it over. Inside, hooked inside the hatband, was a smooth wood cross. Ruth freed it and held it up in the gaslight. The cross was made of two sticks, not more than two inches long. The sticks were tied together by fishing line. The sticks had been polished by rock, Ruth could feel when she rubbed her thumb along the curve.
"Those ancient bones," Idgie said, covering Ruth's hand with hers to tap the cross. "I bet carrying around a part of a vampire will protect you from them. That's all that's left after I killed her. She must have turned to dust."
Idgie's voice was quiet. When Ruth looked up from the cross she saw Idgie was looking out toward the railroad tracks and the forest. "All that's left is a cross? It'll protect me from all the vampires in Alabama," Ruth said solemnly.
"Might be more useful if we go over to Transylvania."
Ruth laughed. She stood up and offered her hand to Idgie. "It's cold out here."
Idgie was still looking contemplatively across the street. "Not sure if it'd protect against werewolves." She stood up, and instead of taking Ruth's hand, took her shoulder and guided her inside, then kicked the door so it shut behind them.
She turned into Idgie's touch. "Are you back?" The cafe seemed full of Idgie's presence again. The walls closed in, and it was warmer, definitely warmer with Idgie there. The lantern had burned its oil while Ruth was outside, and the cafe was dark. Ruth found herself clutching the cross so hard the wood bit into her palm.
"I do not believe in werewolves," Ruth said, and felt a little like she was daring the night to prove her wrong.
Idgie had more boldness, and asked, grinning, "What about vampires?"
Ruth said, "I'd rather know what you believe." She looped one arm around Idgie's waist, thinking Idgie was far too skinny for all Ruth fed her. Nothing but bones. But warm.
Idgie said, "Oh, all right, then. Vampires, you know, are restless spirits. What they love dies before their eyes. They're outcasts, doomed to wander for eternity, searching for..."
"Searching for what, Idgie?"
Idgie smiled. "Searching for life."
"Is that what you were doing out there?"
"Course not." Idgie pulled Ruth closer, wrapping one long arm around her shoulders. "That ain't out there."
Ruth pressed her cheek to Idgie's shoulder. "Then what were you doing out there?"
"Well, now. You'll just have to use your imagination."